Does the USA need a strong Russia?

Today Russia-US relations do not differ much from the USA's relations with its key West European partners. Moreover, there are more tensions in its relations with France than there are differences in its contacts with Russia. Besides, the special, confidential ties that exist between the presidents of Russia and the USA are a major factor of the new quality of Russia-US relationship.

Much has been done in Russo-American relations but there are still quite a few unsettled issues. Regrettably, the USA has not yet cancelled the discriminatory Jackson-Vanik Amendment and there are differences on several other key international issues, such as the Iraqi one. The latter is a subject for serious discussion between the two leaders. They will certainly discuss it but will hardly make important decisions. Here is why.

Both Bush and Putin will fight for reelection in 2004 and the election year is not the best time for serious foreign policy moves. Presidents mostly focus their attention on domestic affairs in election years because this is what interests the voters most. This explains a decline in the leaders' attention to international issues.

Consequently, we should expect a pause in Russo-American dialogue. Such pause is dangerous because it is fraught with the slackening of the dialogue tempo and the addition of new issues to the pile of unresolved problems. This is why the current Russo-American summit should outline a long term of development of bilateral relations in order to prevent a temporary "freeze." Vladimir Putin has recently described bilateral relations as allied. It was the first time he said this and it was very important. Before that, we spoke about partnership but now the goal is to become allies. What this might mean should become clear at the Putin-Bush meeting.

The US military victory in Iraq will hardly become a political victory. In fact, the USA has admitted its helplessness in this matter by appealing for help to the UN Security Council and advocating the deployment of international forces in Iraq. Now that a political victory in Iraq has become a clear impossibility for the USA, Washington is trying to attract Russia, hinting that it would like to see Russian troops in Iraq as well.

It should be said that the USA views Russia as a card that can be used against Islam, China and even Western Europe. The USA needs Russia that would not be sufficiently strong to threaten its interests but strong enough to maintain an international balance of forces that would suit the USA. Russia's behaviour on the world scene is more important to Bush than its domestic policy. This is why he is prepared to close his eyes to some democratic deficiencies (real or imaginary) in Russia provided Moscow pursues a suitable foreign policy line.

But Vladimir Putin has said more than once, and acted on his words, that he would always and everywhere consistently uphold above all the state interests of Russia. The current visit of the Russian president to the USA will show to what degree they coincide with the state interests of the USA.

Sergei ROGOV, director of the Institute of the USA and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences

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